by Hank Hilliard
I was having a great conversation with two parents whose kids had come to a youth event the previous night. I was enjoying seeing how energized these parents were about their kids’ involvement in the ministry. Suddenly, another parent stepped into the group with her arms crossed and her foot tapping angrily. Having overhead our conversation, she stated:
My son would have been there, too, if we had known about it. You should do a better job of letting people know about your events so they don’t find out about them the day after they happen.
Before I could respond, she stormed away.
My first inclinations were to dismiss her remark or to chase her down to state my case. Fortunately, I did not do either. Instead, I swallowed my pride and wrote a note letting her know I was sorry her son missed the event and gently reminded her of how she can get the information she needs moving forward.
I strive for all parents to be informed about ministry events and programs. In order to accomplish this, I adhere to five important communication principles:
Most families have many commitments and calendars fill up quickly. Families have to make choices about what they will do and what they must forgo. The earlier parents know about a youth event, the better they can make plans to attend. Knowing about an opportunity early allows parents to coordinate schedules and transportation as well as the opportunity to budget for it.
The bigger and more expensive the program, the more notice parents need. Every program should be promoted at least two weeks ahead of time. For events that fall outside of normal programming times, you should allow for at least a month’s notice. For trips and large events, you should promote at least six to 12 months prior. You don’t have to have the details all planned out to start promoting. Parents don’t need a packing list or know where you are serving on the mission day. They just need to know the basics of when, where, and how much.
You want your message to break through the many communications parents sift through every day. Because an email or text message received at a busy or bad time may never get read, focus on regular and consistent communication. Keep consistent branding in your communications including logo, a banner, and even the subject line. Consider sending a weekly email on the same day each week. Parents will begin to expect it and know what it is when they see it. Include information about your weekly programs and upcoming events as well as links to resources that are useful to parents. Add a brief personal article to connect with parents.
Communicate in Various Forms
Different forms of communications have different strengths and weaknesses. Email may be the most popular, but it can be ineffective. Some parents may receive 100 emails a day, making it easy for them to skip over or lose yours. If they do open it, they may look at it, but not absorb or remember what it says. Text messaging can be effective in reminding parents about an upcoming event or deadline. Facebook and Twitter each offer the ability to communicate through messages, links, and photos. You can also target specific subsets of people.
Use established church channels such as the bulletin, newsletter, and signage. This may seem outdated, but the worship service may be the one time during the week when a parent is calm and focused allowing for an announcement in the bulletin to stick with him or her. This is also a good way to put information out to families who are visiting. Because parents get this information while they are in the building, they can act on it immediately.
Unclear or muddled communication causes confusion and frustration. You have a small window to get parents’ attention and motivate them to act. Be concise and get to the point quickly.
Use good grammar. If you want parents to take you seriously, then take your communication seriously. Read all written communications carefully before sending, including a second person when possible.
Avoid clutter. No parent says, “I wish she had included an awesome cartoon of Batman on this email about the lock-in.”
Avoid email attachments. These may be dismissed or cause your email to end up in the junk folder. Instead, put all information in the body of the email. Include links to documents or photos you want parents to view.
In addition to reaching out to parents through various means, you should have an information hub for parents to access all the details about the ministry. These things include a program calendar; forms; details about trips, events, and programs; and opportunities for parents to get involved in the ministry. These should all be housed on-line in an easily accessible hub such as a website, blog, or Facebook page. This information should be maintained regularly so that all the information is correct.
Use all your other communications to drive parents here; regularly pointing parents to this hub and training parents to go here for information. Parents will appreciate having a place they can go to get information.
Once parents are trained to go to your hub, you can shift the focus of your other methods of communication. Instead of relying on texts, emails, and Facebook to be the primary avenues for disseminating information, those means become supplementary. They serve as reminders and updates while continuing to drive parents to your information hub.
A few weeks later another frustrated parent complained that her child missed an event because she did not know about it. Before I could offer a defense, another parent spoke up: “Did you check the website? All the information is there.”
I hope these tips help you improve communication with parents in your ministry and ensure that no youth will ever miss a ministry opportunity because they did not know about it.
Hank Hilliard is the Director of Youth Ministry at Franklin First United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tenn. Prior to his current position, he served as the Director of Young People’s Ministries Development for the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church, where he helped local churches develop more effective youth and young adult ministries through speaking and teaching, producing original resources, and building networks of support throughout the Church. Before joining GBOD, Hank served for thirteen years as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tenn. Hank and his wife, Amy, have two sets of twins—Tanner and Kendall, and Connor and Will.